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Should School Start Later?

Should School Start Later?  As a parent, you want the best for your children.  That includes physical, emotional and psychological well-being.  Are you guilty of nagging your teenage kid to get to bed early so they get enough sleep?  We’ve been told by health experts, and it’s conventional wisdom that we should sleep between seven and eight hours for good health. Yet, the assumption that an eight-hour block of sleep is the ideal or norm may be a myth and for teenagers, according to this article by Rachel Ruggera is not even feasible.

photo courtesy: cdc.gov

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight; not engage in daily physical activity, suffer from symptoms of depression, engage in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco and using illicit drugs, and perform poorly in school.

As a parent, you want the best for your children.  That includes physical, emotional and psychological well-being.  Are you guilty of nagging your teenage kid to get to bed early so they get enough sleep?  We’ve been told by health experts, and it’s conventional wisdom that we should sleep between seven and eight hours for good health. Yet, the assumption that an eight-hour block of sleep is the ideal or norm may be a myth and for teenagers, according to this article by Rachel Ruggera is not even feasible.

In an opinion article by my daughter Rachel Rillo Ruggera, 11 grade who attends La Jolla Country Day School she writes , “sleep deprivation is plaguing students across the U.S. even after numerous studies have shown that teenagers would excel more academically and have better mental health with later school start times.

Teenagers have sleep cycles two hours later than adults, meaning that the majority can’t easily fall asleep until around 11 o’clock at night or wake up until 8 in the morning. This difference in time is because their circadian rhythm, or “internal clock”, is different from any other age group, making many teens face chronic lack of sleep throughout their entire school careers. The National Sleep Foundation suggests 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night, but for many high schoolers, this is often an unattainable and unrealistic goal. With a constant barrage of tests, projects, extracurriculars, and sports, teens barely have the time to finish homework, let alone sleep for a healthy amount of time. On average, students go to bed at 10:40 pm, leaving them the bare minimum time to sleep if school were to start at 8:30 am. Given that not all schools begin at this hour and some even have classes at 7:00 am, sleep deprivation has become a public health issue.

Schools with well-rested students have seen an improvement in academic performance and even a decline in tardiness. By improving this one widespread problem, the community would also see a reduced risk of car accidents, obesity, and depression. Studies have proven that with an appropriate amount of sleep each night, students achieve higher grades, higher standardized test scores, and an overall better quality of life.  

While waking up before dawn to get to school isn’t the only cause for lack of sleep it is among one of the leading factors. Part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, excessive amounts of homework, and of course, technology can be detrimental to teenagers’ sleep. One major contributor to this problem can be easily amended by moving start times to later in the morning. If this is the case, then why aren’t school policies changing after all this evidence against early start times?

Later start times would require students to stay in class until later in the day. One argument made is that it would hurt high school sports teams by leaving them less time for after-school practice. Parents also argue that they need teens home earlier in order to take care of younger kids while they’re still at work. With this pushback from the administration and parents, schools haven’t seen significant changes since this new research has been published.

Sleep deprivation isn’t seen as a pressing issue since it has become a social norm among students and hasn’t been addressed by parents or the school. It is part of the school’s culture for students to just toughen up or study more if they aren’t successful in class. With hours of sports practice each week and pressure to add extracurriculars for college resumes, students are expected to excel in their courses at the expense of a good night’s sleep. Instead, conditions at schools should need to change to preserve their students’ mental health.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I would recommend you allow your teenager to sleep in as long as they need to on the weekends to catch up on the sleep they need from the prior week’s deprivation.  Don’t shame them for sleeping in late.  If they are taxed with extracurricular activities that prevent that from happening you put them in a vicious cycle where catching up on their sleep becomes a challenge.  Sometimes eliminating some extracurricular activities for the short term can set a limit that proves beneficial in the long run.  If in doubt ask your teen if setting aside an extracurricular would be something they’d like to do.  They typically know what they want and appreciate our help to get the need met.  As Rachel’s mother, asking her how I can help with this process is showing her love and support.

For more information on how to support your teen please contact me at (858) 735-1139

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/25/u-s-doctors-urge-later-school-start-times-for-teens/?utm_term=.6656c6538d08

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/why-school-should-start-later/401489/

https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_troxel_why_school_should_start_later_for_teens/transcript